NatWest 6 Nations champions Ireland sealed the third Grand Slam in their history by defeating England on the Championship’s final day last Saturday.
For the Irish, it was a St Patrick’s Day they will never forget and their triumph, as well as narrow victories for Wales and Scotland over France and Italy respectively, has really got the papers talking.
Ireland’s ‘greatest victory’
First-half tries from Garry Ringrose, CJ Stander and Jacob Stockdale earned Ireland a famous 24-15 victory at Twickenham that confirmed Joe Schmidt’s men their place in Championship folklore.
The manner of their victory over the English greatly impressed former Ireland fly-half Tony Ward, who believes it be one of their biggest-ever successes.
Ward wrote for the Irish Independent: “The first half was the stuff of dreams and the second was about holding on to them.
“They may have been forbidden from mentioning those ‘GS’ words along the way, but rest assured that after Johnny Sexton dropped the most amazing goal in the history of Irish rugby to get us out of the electric chair in Paris, this group of players and their extraordinary coach had that dream.
“On Saturday, when the Chariot was throwing the proverbial sink in our direction, we held on tighter than ever to that dream.
“Given the context, the day, the venue, the prize, the opposition, the tradition, this represents the greatest victory in the history of Irish rugby – bar none.”
Jones still seeing the benefits
Two tries by Elliot Daly and another from Jonny May weren’t enough for England to avoid their third straight NatWest 6 Nations defeat and their first in the Championship at Twickenham for six years.
The champions of the previous two years finished fifth in the table, but head coach Eddie Jones believes their difficult campaign could prove helpful in the long run.
Jones told The Daily Telegraph: “We weren’t happy being the team we were because we knew whatever we had won (in terms of previous results) we weren’t good enough to get to where we wanted to get.
“We knew we had to change and sometimes that hurts. It’s not nice but it is part of the process of being a better team.
“You never find out about yourself unless you have these runs. When you take over it is quite easy to improve because you can fix things quickly. But internal mechanisms take time to fix.
“Unless you fix them they catch up with you when you get to the big tournaments, such as the World Cup. So for us it has been an enormously beneficial tournament, if disappointing.”
Wales best of the rest
In the final match of the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations, Wales defeated France 14-13 at the Principality Stadium to finish second in the table behind the all-conquering Irish.
After a campaign that saw several new faces catch the eye, head coach Warren Gatland praised his side’s performances during it, which kept up his good record in Rugby’s Greatest Championship.
Gatland said to Wales Online: “Somebody emailed me today and said they’d looked at the table since 2012 and that we are joint first in the finishing positions in the Six Nations.
“In the ten years that I have been involved we have had three firsts, a couple of seconds and another one where we thrashed Italy when we played first in the order and it could have easily have been another Championship or higher finish.
“It’s a tough tournament but we are pretty satisfied with where we are at the moment.
“I felt going into it that we could do reasonably well and I was relieved that we ground out a win to finish second.” Bastareaud fights to the end
France came agonisingly close to their third straight win in this year’s Championship, with fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc missing a penalty in the second half that would have put them in front.
In the absence of injured skipper Guilhem Guirado, the French were captained in Cardiff by centre Mathieu Bastareaud, who remained committed to the last.
Bastareaud told L’Equipe after the game: “It was a special day for me. Captain of the France team, it’s just crazy.
“Unfortunately, we lost the game. I guided the guys as best I could and I’ll give the armband back to Guilhem.
“I hurt my ankle twice but no, even if it was broken I would have stayed on. I could not give up my teammates.
“Games like this are games that I love. A little tense, where it can rock on one side or the other.”
Hogg credits the boys up front
Scotland rounded off their NatWest 6 Nations campaign with a dramatic 29-27 over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico, thanks to a late penalty from scrum-half Greig Laidlaw.
However, Gregor Townsend’s men had to come back from 24-12 down in order to claim victory, with full back Stuart Hogg crediting the Scottish forwards for getting their side back into the game.
“There wasn’t a panic – at least not until they scored straight after half time,” Hogg said to The Herald. “Then there was a panic!
“No, with the character in this squad I knew we could come back fighting and as soon as we got that try off Sean Maitland I felt then that we were very much in control and we wanted to keep the game flowing as much as we could and the tries would come on the back of it.
“The forwards were outstanding. We finish off the tries but the boys up front do all the hard work and full credit to them.”
Allan shines in Azzurri’s defeat
Italy saved their best performance until last in giving Scotland a fright in Rome, with fly-half Tommaso Allan particularly impressing in claiming a 22-point haul that included two tries.
Allan, whose father is Scottish, has called on the Azzurri to continue to progress they showed in the game in their summer tour of Japan.
Allan told La Gazzetta dello Sport: “It’s a bitter feeling, of course, it was a game we could have won, we were there until the last.
“But we really showed a lot as a team. There are a lot of positives from this tournaments.
“Now we have to think about the tour in the summer and grow as a team in Japan.
“The summer test matches will be an opportunity to keep up the progress that, despite the defeats, Italy hopes to have made.”